The Church Under Mary I

Counter Reformation

Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary” by her Protestant opponents, ascended the English throne in 1553. Her reign, though brief, was a tumultuous one, marked by religious strife, political upheaval, and personal tragedy.  Mary, a devout Catholic, viewed the Church of England as an aberration. Upon becoming queen, she swiftly dismantled her Protestant half-brother Edward VI’s reforms. She reconciled with the Pope, bringing England back into the Catholic fold. Churches were redecorated, altars restored, and Latin Mass reinstated. Catholic clergy, who had fled during Edward’s reign, returned with renewed hope.

However, Mary’s religious zeal ignited dissent among the growing Protestant population. Many had embraced the reformed church and saw its dismantling as a betrayal. This discontent simmered, eventually erupting in rebellions like Wyatt’s Rebellion in 1554. Mary’s response to these rebellions was harsh. To solidify her Catholic restoration, she reestablished the Heresy Acts passed previously during the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V that authorized the burning of heretics. The Acts had been repealed during the reigns of her father, Henry VIII, and half-brother, Edward VI.

Over the next five years, nearly 300 Protestants were executed, earning Mary the moniker “Bloody Mary.” The executions, while intended to deter dissent, only served to fuel anti-Catholic sentiment. Propaganda portraying Mary as a bloodthirsty tyrant spread across Europe, further tarnishing her image.

Mary’s reign ended in 1558, after just five years. Her health, plagued by personal losses and the pressures of her tumultuous rule, finally gave way. With her death, the pendulum swung back in favor of Protestantism. Her attempt to impose Catholicism had a lasting effect on English religious identity, solidifying the divide between Catholics and Protestants. The Church of England, though briefly displaced, ultimately emerged stronger, solidifying its place in the nation’s religious landscape.

The Burning of Archbishop Cranmer

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake in Oxford on March 21, 1556. He had recanted his Protestant faith five times, but it didn’t stop his execution from being scheduled. On the day of his execution, Cranmer was taken to the University Church Oxford to make a final public recantation. He agreed to this, but after praying and exhorting the people to obey the King and Queen, he renounced his recantations and professed his true Protestant faith. He vowed that his right hand, the hand that he had used to write his recantations which were “contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death, and to save my life”, would be the first part of him burned in the fire. He was then dragged from the pulpit and out to the stake.